Friday, October 16, 2009

Learning & Teaching Business Development – Part 3: Teaching

The prior post took an overview look at the challenges of teaching students how to become effective business developers.

In summary, Rule #1 was you can’t teach your student to do it “your way” unless your interpersonal styles are very similar. Most often, they aren’t. Rule #2 is that accountants learn business development best when they do so by taking bite size bits within a logical structure. You can either create one or use mine. Rule #3 is the lessons cannot be learned intellectually. Instead, they must first be understood and then practiced. In the hundreds of clients I’ve worked with, I have never seen even one who could ace it the first few times. It is better to make your initial (and usually more egregious) mistakes in a training environment where there is no money on the table.

Let’s get right to exploring the specific actions you can take to effectively teach your student to become a competent business developer.

Create or obtain an outline, manual or book of the method you will be using. The student should have a decent grasp of the overall structure before you begin. Break it down into chapters, phases, stages, milestones, or in some other manner to create bite-size segments that can be isolated, discussed and eventually practiced.

My suggestion is to always connect each lesson or discussion to real or constructed client situations. Every discussion with your student should tie the topic to a real world setting and context. If possible, always use examples that reflect the real world the student will be facing when they are implementing the lessons.

Once the basic “rules” for a given phase (e.g. how to prepare for a business development meeting) are covered, I believe you will achieve a better level of comprehension if you switch to a Socratic teaching method. Instead of simply nodding that they understand what you are saying, you ask them a series of questions to draw the points of the lesson back out of the student, thereby ensuring they really do understand.

For example, you might say, “Laura, we’ve taken a look at an overview of how you prepare for a business development meeting. Let’s explore it in more depth. How do you think your preparation might differ if you knew you were only meeting with one person vs. if you weren’t sure how many people might be in the meeting?” or “How would your preparation change if you were meeting with the owner versus the CFO?”

In short, have the student demonstrate to you they really do understand the lesson content.
When the student has begun to get the gist of how business development works my experience is that it is good practice to get them out in the field right away. Not on their own, but accompanying more experienced accountants to real meetings with real prospects.

This can begin by having the student do the preparation for the first meeting they will be attending. Once this is completed the teacher and student should develop a meeting plan so each attendee’s role is defined.

A proven way to structure the first training meeting is for the “lead” accountant to take a close look at the prospect’s situation and identify a given area that has a degree of potential complexity to it. Let’s use 1031 exchanges as an example. Then, when the meeting introductions are made, the student is introduced something like this, “Joan, I’ve brought Pat with me because I see you are considering making the sale of your warehouse subject to a 1031 exchange. He probably has the most current knowledge of anyone in our office about these transactions and their tax implications. His input may be valuable in our discussion.” (Obviously, Pat will bone up on 1031 exchanges before the meeting.)

NOTE: when two or more accountants attend a business development meeting things can go quite wrong in terms of coordination, presenting a united front to the prospect, etc. My blog archive is at ( Go over on the right column, scroll down, click 2008, then click April, then click “Who’s On First.” About halfway down it talks about having a meeting plan. The text that follows gives you some ideas about how to ensure your presentation will go smoothly.

This will be too long. We’ll conclude with Part 4 next week.

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